Three Nigerian governors are currently on leave of absence outside the country because of ill health. It probably would have been four, if Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa had survived the helicopter crash that killed him along with former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, and four others in Bayelsa on Saturday.
Sullivan Chime of Enugu and Danbaba Suntai of Taraba are receiving treatment at foreign hospitals. The first for an officially undisclosed illness, while the latter is fighting for his life having survived a plane crash on October 25. Liyel Imoke of Cross River is believed to be resting in Maryland, U.S.A. after treatment for an equally undisclosed illness.
Chime was the first of the three to disappear from public radar. Everybody, except those who chose to deliberately believe the badly concocted tales from the Enugu Government House, knows all is not well with his health. The governor, according to the state government, proceeded on his annual leave on September 19. The vacation was subsequently extended because he had not taken his annual leave since May 29, 2007 when he took over governance from Chimaroke Nnamani. His deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, is currently the acting governor and everybody is doing their best to pretend all is well.
Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Chuks Ugwoke, has had a torrid time convincing an increasing disbelieving public that there is no vacuum in governance. And when it was reported that Chime had passed on last weekend at an India hospital, Ugwoke wasted no time in describing the hoax as news from the pit of hell. He repeated for the umpteenth time that his boss was doing well and would return to Enugu in no distant time.
There was also so much speculation on the whereabouts of Imoke until the Cross River government announced on December 7 that he was proceeding on a two-month leave after receiving medical attention. A statement from his chief press-secretary, Christian Ita, said, "Some three weeks ago, His Excellency Governor Liyel Imoke took a short break after a long, hectic and eventful year, all preparatory to the start of the busy Calabar Festival season. He used the opportunity to undergo medicals, and in the course of so doing, was advised by his doctors to undergo further medical evaluation. Accordingly, His Excellency will be proceeding on a two-month accumulated leave with effect from December 6. In line with the provisions of the Constitution, His Excellency Efiok Cobham, the deputy governor will act in his place."
Questions had been asked before then when he failed to appear at events, notably the annual three-day Obudu International Mountain race held from November 17 to 21. His continued absence means he also misses this year’s Calabar Festival. Although it took some time coming, Imoke finally opened up to his people that all was not well with his body. He might not have told Nigerians the result of the medicals he underwent (who does so anyway?) but he is a step ahead of his Enugu counterpart in the sincerity department. The disclosure that he had medicals should at least count for something.
Governor Suntai was airlifted to Germany after he sustained serious injuries when his plane crashed in Yola, Adamawa State on October 25. He was originally taken to Abuja but was soon on his way to Germany because his case was obviously beyond what any facility in the country could handle. Given the nature of his accident and the circumstances of his trip abroad, his aides could not spin a story about him going on extended leave because of accumulated working hours.
With Suntai’s deputy, Garba Umar, now calling the shots as acting governor, well meaning Nigerians are praying for the governor’s safe return. There have been reports that he is brain and that the PDP may have written him off but the Taraba State Commissioner for Information, Emma Bello, has described them as baseless and malicious. Those saying that, according to him, "are people who take pleasure only when there is doom. They do not align with anything that is progressive; they do not publish positive developments. They wait for evil and negative occurrences and when no such things happened at the time of their projection, they try to create one by themselves and feed the public with such figments of their imagination."
Bello’s account about his boss’ condition his markedly different from those who saw Suntai when they visited him in hospital in Hanover, Germany.
The fact that Nigerian governors and other top politicians travel abroad to treat even common cold gives a lie to their claims of providing world class health care services in their various states. Every time they celebrate a year or another hundred days in office, state chief executives often reel out remarkable achievements in the health sector as some of their achievements. If really the hospitals in the states are as good as the governors claim why then don’t they go there?
A visit to the website of the Cross River State Government yielded the following: "The primary mission of the Ministry (of Health) is to provide and manage a comprehensive and integrated quality health care delivery to the people of Cross River State, with emphasis on meeting the needs of the poor particularly those in rural communities."
We need not deceive ourselves that our governors are in the same category with the poor or average Nigerian, but the impression they give when they grovel before the people during political campaigns is that we all matter irrespective of our social or economic status. Governors who travel for almost all of their health needs cannot in good conscience convince Nigerians that they have done a good job of providing reliable health care. You do not tell a man to patronise your restaurant when you go somewhere else to eat.
If the hospitals constructed and managed by governors are not good enough for them then they are not good enough for the people they govern.